FOLLOWING THE PATH by Ellen Donker
It sometimes meanders
I wrote my first poem in third grade. It was a silly piece about hiccupping and picking up my room and I felt both hilarious and brilliant with my ability to string together a rhyme. That first piece gave me a glimpse of the joy of self-expression.
During my school years, I continued to enjoy writing, whether it was in the form of journaling or a research paper. But I never thought about joining the school paper or pursuing a career in journalism, and no one ever suggested it.
When it came to start a career, I looked to my father as my role model. He owned a successful business and encouraged me to find something I loved and turn it into my own venture.
Fascinated with mail order catalogs, I decided to major in business and economics to be properly prepared. I still loved to write so I took a poetry class and immediately felt unworthy by being the only non-English major there. I spent hours honing my poems and could barely muster the confidence to read them aloud, but, in the end, I showed that an economics major could be
creative after all.
Although I never did launch a catalog company, that interest pointed me in the direction of direct marketing and advertising positions where I continued writing and editing marketing copy when needed. After I had children and stepped away from the workforce for a while, I tried getting back into my field on a part-time basis to work while my children were in school. But my line of work didn’t seem to exist in any form other than full time.
Eventually, I patched together a few part-time jobs: I found a position in nonprofit development and one in sales for Matters Magazine, a publication whose mission of sharing good news stories I adored.
And then something happened that had never been on my radar: I was presented with the opportunity to buy the Matters Magazine business. Feeling very unqualified, I hesitated until I was convinced by others that I had sufficient skills, a talented staff and a collection of veteran freelancers to lean on. I also liked to learn what I didn’t know. When I decided to move forward to become the next owner, I know the Matters staff held their collective breaths and were kind not to judge until they had a chance to work with me on a few issues.
Although my life as a small business owner contains its share of tedium that I can’t delegate, I wouldn’t trade it for the autonomy, flexibility and plain fun that I have with our team putting each issue together. Since I didn’t grow up in the world of journalism, I’ve suffered from imposter syndrome, but I continue to train myself to be better at writing, designing and analyzing the business. I’m thankful to be blessed with lots of curiosity, which is probably the most useful skill of all.
This issue, we’re running our annual Women in Business feature and our theme is “Connecting the Dots to My Career Story.” I interviewed 36 dynamic women business owners who graciously shared their paths. Not surprisingly, most of their journeys have not been straight lines. In fact, almost all of the women are working in different careers than when they first started out. For many it was an evolution and for others a complete 180-degree turn. A few wondered why they weren’t encouraged to turn a hobby into a profession and instead were advised to follow a conventional career path. When their passions kept popping up, they eventually found a way to incorporate them into careers.
Maybe that’s what happened to me. I sometimes ask myself what would have happened if I had been prodded to join the school paper, major in English or consider journalism as a career. I am fortunate to have found fulfillment in marketing and advertising. Plus it gave me the skills that prepared me to do something that never crossed my mind until I was asked. And while I won’t be putting my poems in print anytime soon, I look forward to continuing to tell the stories about people in our midst who matter.